After Virat Kohli produced two epic innings against Pakistan and Australia to steer the ship of captain MS Dhoni to the semifinals in the 2016 T20 World Cup, many have been questioning whether his batsmanship skills have now surpassed those of Sachin Tendulkar, the finest batsman for these generations?
This is not an easy question to answer for our sentiments are influenced more by the media than logic but yet, drawing a parallel between Kohli and Tendulkar to assess who has a greater height is an important debate particularly at a time when Tendulkar has almost been awarded a cricket 'sainthood'.
There are similarities in Kohli and Tendulkar stories
There are a lot of similarities between the circumstances that these two ace batsmen have played and perhaps that explain why both are great in their own rights. Kohli's single-handed pursuit in taking India into the semifinals reminds one of the Tendulkar of the early 1990s when the entire batting line-up depended on him. ['Kohli knock on par with Sachin's sandstorm in Sharjah']
Till the time two other pillars in Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid arrived on the scene in 1996 followed by other powerhouses like the Virender Sehwags and Yuvraj Singhs, Tendulkar was the only wicket that had mattered for the opponents most of the time. [Maxwell 'shattered' by 'genius' Kohli]
In this World Cup, Kohli is doing the same as other top batsmen are failing to perform in match after match. Tendulkar had a fantastic run in the 1996 World Cup with two centuries, one 90 and a couple of 70s and 60s and the moment he was dismissed in a killer strip at the Eden, India's World Cup dreams were dashed.
That was a period when India's cricket supporters lived to see Tendulkar and died with his dismissal.
Tendulkar is more popular than Gavaskar among current generation
That towering presence had played a big role in making Tendulkar immortal in India's cricket history, aided with of course, his durability in international cricket for 24 years. He was compared with Sunil Gavaskar, the only other Indian batsman before Kohli made it big, more in terms of the numbers and statistics than the quality of bowlers the two had faced. [World T20: Virat Kohli breaks Chris Gayle's record in Mohali]
Tendulkar had hit 100 international hundreds, more than double Gavaskar had scored but it was his survival in a fiercely competitive world of international cricket routinely scanned by a judgemental media for eight years more than Gavaskar that made his memory stronger in public mind.
Quality-wise, Gavaskar's 35 hundreds will perhaps weigh more than Tendulkar's 100, thanks to an ever-deteriorating bowling standard in world cricket, but yet Tendulkar is more popular among this generation because he thrived in the colourful era of globalised cricket and that too, for a long time.
But when Kohli comes into picture, Tendulkar's appeal faces a stiffer challenge
This precise reason behind Tendulkar's bigger fame faces a challenge from Kohli when we compare the two. Kohli, unlike Gavaskar, is not from the all-white era and hence Tendulkar can't really beat him on the count of visual appeals. The 27-year-old also excels in a form of cricket which is extremely popular and perhaps defines the finalities of the game among today's generations.
Gavaskar was a Test genius and Tendulkar more for his balanced excellence in both Tests and ODIs but Kohli has added a third dimension to his cricketing abilities with the arrival of the T20 cricket. To describe him in a sentence: Kohli is India's Test captain who has made centuries in ODIs a habit and excels when India aim to overhaul targets set in T20s. And remember, he has done better than Tendulkar in captaining India so far (won 5 out of 10 Tests as against Tendulkar's 4 out of 25).
This incredible three-dimensional identity puts Kohli perhaps puts him a notch above Tendulkar, who did not have an equally assertive record in the T20s because they were yet to come into fasion.
Kohli: The Test captain with a consistent ODI record and a genius in chasing in T20s
The advantage that the T20 formats gives Kohli is that with the game getting shrunk, there is a bigger scope for him to control it as a top-class performer. With international bowling having losing its teeth, the challenge for Kohli is today actually scoring faster than how to score. He is doing this job with such easiness that the comparison between him and Tendulkar is often going to his way.
Both Tendulkar & Kohli gained a huge confidence by scoring Test tons in Australia at the beginning of their careers
Both Tendulkar and Kohli helped themselves in a big way through their first tour to Australia, still considered the most challenging one in world cricket. While the former scored his second and third Test centuries in Sydney (148 not out) and Perth (114) in the 1991-92 tour, the latter too hit his first Test hundred at Adelaide (116) in 2012.
India had lost both the series to Australia 0-4 but the talents had got their confidence they needed to become future superstars.
For those who felt Indian cricket would not be the same in the post-Tendulkar era, Kohli has proved that the game is not static and continues to produce stars who help it get bigger.
Kohli has indeed emerged as the player who can not only eclipse Tendulkar's enviable record of 100 international tons but also one who could be judged even better than the Master Blaster by history.